July 5, 20239 Minutes

Farm to Crafts bridges the gap between farmers and the creative sector

Willemstad, Curaçao – “An eyeopener, inspiring, and collaborative.” With these impressions from the first Farm to Crafts brainstorming session, attendees went home on May 20th. Although the team has been working for a few months, the session felt like the official kick-off of the sustainable project.

Over 16 people gathered at Hòfi Cas Cora, where they could see the efforts of cultural entrepreneur Cleo de Brabander, earth economist Cindy Eman, and product designer and farmer Gino Martina and dream about a circular economy where agriculture and the creative industry collaborate. Farm to Crafts aims to make local farmers more resilient by opening their eyes to new opportunities. The project primarily focuses on plants that produce fibers or from which natural dyes can be extracted. Take corn, for example. The stalks of corn cobs are usually discarded after the harvest, while fibers can be extracted from them,” explains earth economist Cindy Eman. These fibers can then be used in the textile industry. Another example is bamboo, which grows easily and abundantly throughout the entire island. However, we pay high prices to get it imported. Almost everything can be made from bamboo. The material has been used in construction in Asia for thousands of years. Other places in the world utilize bamboo to create homes that are more energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Another example is the Flor de Jamaica. According to Cindy, the beautiful, intense color of this hibiscus can serve as a natural dye. Almost everyone who went to school on the island knows of the blooming indigo production in Curaçao. At the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, many plantations had indigo plants to produce dye. This singular blue pigment was in high demand in the Netherlands.  Indigo production became unprofitable in Curaçao during the 18th century because of the low prices on the global market. Nevertheless, the many stories about once thriving industries that discontinued do not discourage the initiators. 


In Europe, the United States, and Latin America, it is becoming increasingly common for farmers to collaborate closely with the creative sector. Soon, two product designers will be coming to Curaçao to conduct workshops. “Designer Fernando Laposse works with Mexican farmers to develop new business models. He creates furniture, carpets, and artworks using sisal – a fiber made from the agave plant”, says Cleo de Brabander. Buyers readily pay around $7,000 for his dog bench made of sisal. Laposse’s motivation to turn to natural raw materials is partly driven by the preservation of cultural traditions but also by concern for the environment. He believes that “some answers to the environmental challenges of the future might be found in traditional crafts rather than exclusively in new technological discoveries.”

Dutch designer Nienke Hoogvliet is also coming to the island. Through Zeefier, she produces sustainable textile dyes on an industrial scale from seaweed. This demonstrates that artists, designers, and farmers have a lot to offer each other.


Cleo drew inspiration for Farm to Crafts from The Linen Project, an initiative of the Crafts Council Netherlands and ArtEZ Art Academy. This project not only resulted in the first Dutch organic flax harvest since the 1950s but also provided insights into how local production can be shaped in new ways.

Patrick Scannel is one of the participants who writes down various materials that are currently imported but could be grown locally. Such as palm leaves for palapas. The list is supplemented with watakeli trees, indigo, and includes considerations for livestock for tanning leather and the production of blood meal fertilizers for plants. Participants also come up with suggestions for the cosmetics industry, such as soap made from natural and animal ingredients. 


A prerequisite for success is a continuous supply of products, says art gallery owner Lusette Verboom, one of the participants in the brainstorming session. “In my experience, these initiatives fail if they are not seen as full-fledged businesses. It is possible to establish a sustainable enterprise with a hierarchical structure, where I pay people for the product and have a say in quality control. My advice is to start with the people who are already involved in this field.”

She acknowledges that there is a fertile basis for cross-pollination between agriculture and creative entrepreneurs. Much is already being done with calabash fruit. By experimenting with innovative applications, new products could be developed.

Experiential tourism also offers opportunities for farmers and crafters. Through Airbnb, farmers can promote experiences. Crafters and artists can also offer creative workshops.


Artist Gwen Anderson leaves the brainstorming session with the contact information of a beekeeper. She is looking for beeswax. She uses the product to make paint. The import of beeswax is expensive, and Gwen hopes to find a more affordable option by purchasing locally. Leisure farmer Berber van Beek, knows a lot of farmers through her Hidden Green Movement. As luck would have it, she knows a beekeeper by name. In addition to networking, the brainstorming session has also been valuable for generating ideas.

Cynthia de Wind mainly saw her farmland as a means of producing food. “This session has encouraged me to think further. With the existing resources, I can explore multiple directions. The elephant grass can be used for making handicraft articles. The trunks of the 50 banana trees on the premises can also be utilized. I knew that the Flor de Jamaica is good for lowering high blood pressure, but the idea of using the flowers for extracting dye is new to me.”


Scientific research is also a branch of Farm to Crafts. The team had initial conversations with Wageningen University to collaborate on conducting experiments on the island. The warm climate of Curaçao serves as an alternative to conducting research in energy-consuming greenhouses in the Netherlands.

The gears in the mind of nature expert Frensel Mercelina are turning at full speed. He lists extracting dyes from the algae Dunaliella salina, which is responsible for the pink water in salt pans, but also exploring successful methods for cultivating the cochineal insect, as research endeavors which can be carried out by foreign companies and scientific institutions. Agricultural students from Groningen are already coming to the island for research in various fields, he says. 

Trial and error

Experimentation is already taking place on the grounds of Hòfi Cas Cora, with its fair share of successes and setbacks. The first two flax harvests failed, partly due to excessive water and grazing by free-roaming livestock. They have also not yet succeeded in obtaining successful sisal fiber from the agave plants. “It’s a process,” says Gino Martina.

The enthusiastic responses from the participants in the first brainstorming session provided an extra boost to the initiators. The next step is to increase community involvement in the project. This includes data and material collection, as well as acting as ambassadors to spread the team’s ideas within their networks.


Written by Nelly Rosa